Climate Talks in Morocco Aim to Set Paris Agreement in Motion

It lacks the pizazz of last year's landmark negotiations, but the talks in Marrakech will help determine whether the world can reach Paris' goals.

Marrakech, Morocco is set to host the next round of UN climate talks

Marrakech, Morocco is set to host the next round of UN climate talks, where details of how to implement the Paris accord will be discussed. Credit: Getty Images

A new chapter in the world's climate talks starts this month as the Paris climate agreement enters into force on Nov. 4, followed by the first round of formal discussions on how to turn its promises into action.

Negotiators, leaders, experts and activists will gather in Marrakech, Morocco to begin the daunting task of implementing the historic accord that seeks to avert the worst impacts of man-made climate change. The 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) will convene from Nov. 7-18, tasked with continuing the momentum of the Paris accord that was negotiated last year and signed into force ahead of schedule.

"The Paris agreement really represents a promise that we've made to ourselves and...to the world," said Mariana Panuncio-Feldman from the World Wildlife Fund. "Now it is time to turn that into action and that's the work we need to do in Morocco."

This job won't be easy, straightforward or quick. As part of the agreement, countries vowed to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, possibly to 1.5 degrees; to quickly reach a peak in global emissions of greenhouse gases; and to reach net zero emissions by mid-to-late century. Rich countries promised to lead the way and to assist poor ones. And all gave themselves a few years to flesh out the 25-page agreement and build its many gears and pistons.

"No one had anticipated it would enter into force so quickly," said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. "That presents some unanticipated procedural wrinkles." Countries rushed past the threshold (55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions) needed to ratify the deal, with 94 countries representing more than 60 percent of emissions having done so.

This recent momentum on climate action has extended beyond the agreement's boundaries. Nearly 200 countries last month agreed to phase out a group of potent greenhouse gases used for cooling in refrigerators and air conditioners. The global aviation industry also agreed this fall to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions, and the shipping industry set a 2023 deadline for finalizing its climate action strategy.

"We are starting to see some really remarkable progress," said Andrew Steer, president and chief executive officer of the research organization World Resources Institute. "The meeting in Marrakech really needs to see the negotiators continuing to step up to the plate.

"It's also important to remember that while we have a lot to be enthusiastic about, we're still a long, long way off from getting from where we need to get to."

The U.S. elections also loom over the start of the conference, threatening to boost or burst the mood. While a Clinton presidency would build on President Obama's efforts to make the U.S. a leader on climate action, a Trump presidency threatens to undo that progress.

Many different conversations are going to be started in Marrakech and it's unclear what decisions will be finalized by the conference's end.

What exactly is on the agenda for Marrakech? Top priorities include how to implement the deal (housekeeping); how to expand on the deal in the near- and long-term (ambition); how to pay for the global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change (climate finance); and how to respond to the impacts of warming that can't be avoided or protected against (loss and damage).

Housekeeping

Implementing the treaty involves a lot of housekeeping—administrative, technical and policy work. Complicating matters, the agreement entered into force much earlier than anticipated.

When countries signed the Paris agreement last December, they had planned to approve an initial package of rules for carrying out the deal out at their first meeting following its entry into force. Fast-forward to today: Morocco is that meeting and countries aren't ready. According to policy experts and negotiators, two key areas of negotiation at COP 22 will be outlining what rules are needed and agreeing to an accelerated timetable for completing them.

A big piece of the deal is that every nation decides and updates its own targets for driving down domestic emissions, called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). In the first round of submissions, the U.S. pledged to cut emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, the European Union committed to reducing emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and China targeted a 65 percent reduction in emissions intensity. Rules are needed for tracking the progress on such different targets and assessing if efforts are in line with the Paris goals.

The Paris deal is set up so the legal teeth are in the rules on reporting and accounting. To be effective, experts say, countries must be required to be transparent about all their climate efforts, from reducing emissions to providing or receiving climate-related aid. Because a country can't be penalized for not meeting its targets under this arrangement, transparency is crucial to keep countries' failures from sliding under the radar.

Ambition

The world has already warmed at least 1 degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels and scientists say more than a half-degree of additional warming could have dire impacts on some parts of the world. According to the latest tally of country emissions reduction targets, however, the world is on a course to warm around 2 degrees Celsius more than today.

The Paris deal requires countries to regularly update and build on their existing climate targets over time. The next round of updated NDCs are due by 2020 and there will be major discussions in 2018 on what those NDCs will need to include. With these deadlines looming, the emphasis in Marrakech will be on ratcheting up short-term and long-term ambitions.

"There will be a lot of pressure on countries to up their game even more and close some of the ambition gap," said Alden Meyer of the science advocacy organization Union of Concerned Scientists.

The United States, for one, has said it will introduce a long-term target for its emissions reductions at Marrakech, describing in more detail by year-end how it will manage to cut emissions deeply by 2050.

French and Moroccan ministers will launch an initiative to focus on quickly accelerating climate action in the next few years for countries and non-state actors, such as states, provinces, cities, businesses and other groups. Additionally, individual nations or other actors may announce new climate goals at the conference.

Climate Finance

It will cost trillions of dollars to shift the world to a future free of greenhouse gas emissions and fortified against the warming that is already arriving. Figuring out who's going to pay and exactly how much has been a long-running discussion in the climate negotiations, and one that will continue in Morocco.

There are two main types of climate finance. Mitigation requires money to stave off further climate change. Adaptation requires money to prepare for unavoidable climate impacts. The Paris agreement mandates that developed nations provide both kinds of support to developing nations.

Back in 2009, at the Copenhagen conference, developed countries committed to raising $100 billion per year by 2020. Since then, developing nations have been asking for a roadmap on where this money will come from. That roadmap was recently completed by a group of developed countries and will be reviewed at Marrakech. To compile it, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development conducted an analysis that suggests there's already $41 billion generated in public finance and this will increase to $67 billion by 2020 and that the private sector will mobilize to provide the remaining money. The OECD analysis projects financing for adaptation will double by 2020. However, critics of the study point out that money for mitigation far outpaces that for adaptation—and it is adaptation costs that developing nations are particularly concerned about.

Expect to see conversations at COP 22 about what counts as new climate finance, what role private finance will play and what's needed to close the adaptation funding gap.

Loss and Damages

One of the most contentious sections in the Paris agreement is on loss and damage: the impacts of climate change that you can't mitigate against or adapt to. It's the inescapable devastation from extreme weather events, such as wildfires worsened by global warming, to slow onset events including sea-level rise, ocean acidification and desertification, among others. The poorest and most vulnerable communities will be hit hardest by loss and damage.

Developing nations have called for greater attention to this for years. Their insistence at the 2013 climate conference in Poland led to the creation of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (called the WIM) to research the issue and an executive committee to carry out the task. The WIM was written into the Paris accord, but only after the U.S. insisted that it not be interpreted as formal liability on rich nations that are responsible for most of the accumulation of greenhouse gases.

At COP 22, countries will review the WIM's progress and its proposed five-year workplan. The WIM has only met four times, focusing largely on getting organized. The task force it created this year on displacement related to climate impacts will meet for the first time in 2017.

This fall, due to a request by the WIM, a group called the Standing Committee on Finance devoted its annual forum to discussing ways to fund loss and damage, such as establishing new insurance risk pools, a levy on fossil fuel producers or a levy on the airline and shipping industries. This group has submitted a report on their activities that will be reviewed in Morocco.  However, the Paris deal doesn't explicitly mention financing loss and damage, so it's unclear what progress will be made.

"The mood in the room has been pretty constructive and positive," Harjeet Singh of the international development organization ActionAid, said of loss and damage talks since Paris. "That's why we've been able to make a huge amount of progress operationally. But in terms of finance, action and support—this is where we are lagging behind."

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